One of my FAVORITE parts of being Sophie’s mom is working on art projects. Sophie loves being creative, whether its with markers, paints, crayons, stickers, or anything else. Milo could care less about anything craft-y or artsy at the moment, but having Sophie work on a little project while I’m cooking or she’s upset really helps keep her calm and collected. They get me through “toddler hour” at my house, and I thought I’d share a few of our favorite art supplies, in case anyone else is looking for a bit of inspiration.
One of the biggest barriers to this sort of play is all the mess. I’ve found a few things really help me get over that and that help us have fun.
1) A plastic tablecloth. Target carries seasonal ones all the time. They’re plastic on top with the soft flannelly underside. We use these all the time. I can wipe them off after we paint, set them under a container of beans or sand, and I don’t have to worry about getting things on them.
2) Child-size bibs. We use these great child-size bibs from Bumkin. They’ve got sleeves and are large enough to cover their entire shirt/top. Certainly a big t-shirt or paint shirt/smock will work. We just also use these for mealtimes, so we always have them on hand. They wipe off well, and I’ve even tossed mine in the washer (then air dried) with great results. We love them.
3) A water cup and baby wipes. If your child hesitates to get messy (Sophie does), these are great. I’ve taught her that she can simply wipe her hand off if she gets paint on it rather than using her shirt, the table, her hair (or even just panicking). Washing her brush off in the water also helps keep her happy (and the paints nice and neat).
4) Paint/Marker weight paper. If you like, I’ve found pant and marker weight paper maintains it shape well when wet, and dries well if you want to display what you’ve made later. Otherwise, printer paper will get the job done.
Markers That ONLY Write on Paper.
These little Color Wonder markers are a lifesaver. They’re a touch pricier than classic washable markers, but I love them. Coloring is one of the things I set little ones up with at the kitchen table when I’m cooking. While I’m taking something out of a million degree oven, Milo can slip down from the table and over to the living room furniture/walls/his body. These markers eliminate the major stress of turning around to see surprise artwork around the house, and a simple reminder of “Milo, markers go on the paper” is enough to keep us on track most of the time. It’s worth it to me.
Our favorite Color Wonder books:
- Doc McStuffins
Sofia The First
- They also have things like Planes or Avengers, or even a plain pad of paper if you have someone who loves drawing (we’re not quite there yet). Target usually carries a good variety, and Amazon can fill in any gaps.
If you’d rather go the standard marker route, I highly recommend that you double check you’re buying washable markers. It’s worth the price difference (just a few pennies) to be able to easily wash everything out.
Do a Dot Markers.
These are a favorite among preschool teachers. They’re great for a lot of developmental areas (messy play, pencil grip, motor coordination), they’re also great for creativity. The mess is mostly contained since they work rather like self-contained stamps. The paint is fairly washable (though we still wear bibs while we use them).
We have the basic set and brilliant set (they make great Christmas or birthday gifts!) There are special books you can buy to paint with them, but there are also free printable pages (see below), and you can always use them freestyle.
If you’re just starting with painting, I absolutely 100% recommend starting with kids’ watercolors. They’re washable, they’re inexpensive, they’re lovely. Feel free to start with the basic set. Once your kids have gotten the hang of painting, we lovelovelove the three pack of paints. The pastels and bolds are gorgeous, and you get a little variety. I can often find these for a good price at Target. (I’ve also learned that Crayola really does wash out better than RoseArt brand.)
It is an act of love that made me risk all the mess that paint can cause. We got a lot of it out of the way for Sophie when she was younger. I’d sit her in her high chair (over tile) in just her diaper and let her paint. It got everywhere, so a bath afterward was just an accepted part of the process.
These days, she’s much tidier, prefers a brush, and only needs her bib to cover her dress. We use these little Crayola Washable Kids Paints. Thus far, they’ve washed out of everything they’ve touched, and wiped right off our table. They’re the messiest paints we’ve tried, but they work beautifully. These are the paints Sophie’s used for her rainbow veggies. They’re available at Amazon and Michael’s, but we got some at Target this Christmas for $5. Check there first!
Also, if your child struggles with messy play, this mess-free finger painting was what we started with for Sophie. It was a cinch to clean up. We’d sometimes tape the bags to the window for some sunlight fun.
Change things up: try using these paints with Q-tips or fruit or vegetable “stamps” (cut celery, apples, potatoes, etc.)
Disclaimer: I hate sand. I don’t like sandy feet. I don’t like sand in my house. BUT. Our occupational therapist introduced us to Kinetic Sand and it’s magic. It sticks to itself (not to your hands!), it’s moldable, malleable, and it won’t dry out. It’s good for kids who are working on texture sensitivity.
The only downside is that it is pricey for sand. We got ours at Michaels, which has sale coupons regularly. Ours was 50% off and it’s great. You can play with it like regular sand (sandcastles, etc.) or you can use rubber stamps on it.
Also note: we can’t for the life of us trust Milo with this stuff, since he will lob handfuls of anything he’s holding across the room at any time. While it does stick to itself, and it cleans up well on tile or a plastic mat, it is a bugger to get out of carpet. Don’t let that happen to you.
Our occupational therapist LOVES having her clients (including Sophie) work with foam stickers. Peeling off the little white paper on the back of them requires lots of fine motor coordination, and they’re really self-motivating because the sticker acts as a natural reinforcement for all that hard work! We get big packages seasonally at Target, but Hobby Lobby and Michaels carry them all the time on sale.
Other ways to play with them:
- Paint or draw a scene and then tell a story with the stickers you add to the page.
- Practice counting, colors, shapes, animal sounds, patterns, and letter recognition. These are great for conversation and verbal skills.
Printable Coloring Pages
Sometimes, the coloring book runs out at just the wrong moment. Sometimes, you’re looking for a page to support a theme or holiday you’ve been talking about. Here are a few of our faves…
- Robots Coloring Page + Monsters Coloring Page, by Dabbles and Babbles (I LOVE these)
- Abstract Coloring Pages + Alphabet Coloring Pages + by Mr Printables (SO many fun things here)
- Do a Dot Pages round-up, by Simply Montessori
- Alphabet Tracing Pages on Activity Village (great for pre-writing skills, pencil grasp, and letter recognition)